March 30, 2010
BALTIMORE, Md. - The 2010 Loyola women's volleyball team will be challenged early.
Third-year head coach Scott Pennewill announced the upcoming fall schedule Tuesday, and for the second year in a row, it includes tough local foes and a difficult non-conference tournament schedule that he hopes will prepare his young squad for this year's Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship tournament at Disney's Wide World of Sports in Orlando.
"This year's schedule is fairly aggressive," Pennewill said. "Pretty much along the same lines as last season's of quality competition."
The 2010 season will begin with arguably the biggest test of the season when Loyola travels to Ohio for the University of Toledo Tournament. The Greyhounds will face a Toledo program on the upswing and the perennial powerhouse Michigan Wolverines, who ended the 2009 season ranked No. 15 and came within one win away from the Final Four. Binghamton will complete the field.
"This program is in a developmental stage right now and we need to learn to do the things that get us the wins," Pennewill said. "The way to do that is to play up as much as you can."
Loyola will once again participate in the annual Battle of Baltimore during week two. Last year, wins against Morgan State and Navy and a huge upset win over Maryland earned Loyola a runner-up finish in the event. This season, Coppin State and UMBC will take the place of the Midshipmen and the Terrapins.
The home season will begin with a visit from reigning CAA champ George Mason. The Patriots, who toppled the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds in the CAA Championships to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament last season, are poised to repeat as they return 11 players from last year's team.
The final tournament on tap will be James Madison's Bulldog Invitational. Aside from the host, the field will include Delaware State and Lehigh.
Non-conference season wraps up with two tough road matches at George Washington and American.
"With having a young roster, mostly freshmen and sophomores, we want to be able to give them exposure to quality competition and make the non-conference schedule as competitive as we can," Pennewill said.
Although last year's team was heavy on freshmen with six, six more have been inked for the 2010 season. Senior outside hitter and first-team all-conference selection Nina Camaioni and former all-conference libero Brittany Born will anchor the young squad.
But a tough non-conference schedule last season - one that included No. 1-ranked Penn State - prepared the freshmen more than Pennewill originally though, as they overachieved in MAAC play, finishing fifth, just shy of making the four-team championship tournament, and defeating Siena for the first time since 2002.
However, with this season's tournament at Disney World, all teams will get a shot at the conference title, making the challenge of winning the MAAC different than in most years.
"Last season, we did far better than I expected," Pennewill said. "With the championship being in Disney, you have to win an extra match. Nothing would be worse than finishing in the top four and losing in the first round."